Phillip Sterling


Phillip Sterling’s most recent book is In Which Brief Stories Are Told, a collection of short fiction (Wayne State University Press, 2011). He is also the author of the poetry collection Mutual Shores (New Issues, 2000) and three chapbook-length series of poems: Significant Others, Quatrains, and Abeyance, as well as the editor of Imported Breads: Literature of Cultural Exchange. Among his awards are an NEA Fellowship, two Fulbright Lectureships, and a P.E.N. Syndicated Fiction Award. In May 2013, Sterling will retire from Ferris State University, where he established and coordinated the Literature In Person Reading Series.


You get out the bike your son
left behind. Something you
haven't done in years. Wipe
off the dust. Pump air into
the tires, which feel chalky
but still seem pliable. You're
hopeful. So you wheel it
to the bike path the township
has paved, the path your taxes
pay for, and you think: One
never forgets how to ride
a bike (or some other nonsense
meant to buoy your aging
confidence). But now you can't
recall the last time you rode
a bike, or even the first time,
for that matter, and as you
consider the idea further, and
with a certain gravity, you
begin to question if you'd ever
ridden a bike at all, for if
you hadn't, you wouldn't have
forgotten how. And yet,
the vocabulary is familiar:
wobble, teeter, swerve, veer . . .
Don't your eyes recall a flash
of asphalt? Can't your ears
summon a whistle of air? You
look at the bike beside you, gray
as an elephant, and the color
brings to mind the ballsy
Hannibal, his elephants and Alps
and great assault, and how
when he'd grown tired of it
and could no longer mount
or ride, he took his life. Ready?

‘Cycling’ was written while I was in residence at Atlantic Center for the Arts. As an avid cyclist, every day I would borrow one of the Center’s fat-tired, single-speed bicycles and ride to the beach or to Smyrna Park or around the estuary. And nearly every day one of the other residents, in response to my answer about what I did when I wasn’t writing, would remark how many years it’s been since they’d ridden a bike or how they’d probably not be able to remember how. The bikes were mostly gray and had those retro, elephantine seats. The Hannibal allusion was a gift—I’d run across a short article about him while researching something else.